It was our anniversary this weekend, so we decided to try a restaurant in Ann Arbor that is focused on using local ingredients. It was our first time there, so we tried their five course tasting menu to see what the chef was capable of. The restaurant offered an accompanying wine pairing for half of what dinner cost. While I sometimes have had good experiences with these restaurant offered pairings, this is usually only the case if the restaurant has a sommelier and is as devoted to its wine menu as it is to its cuisine. Somehow, this place (and their wine menu) did not give off that impression, so I was reluctant to take it.
Given that the tasting menu was a surprise menu, it was not the easiest thing to decide what wine to go for then. Given that there was no riesling on the menu (shame on them), we decided to go with a lighter red wine that could complement most of what was possibly going to come, and sit out on the wine when it did not match at all. I find Côtes du Rhône wines to usually be a good companion when it comes to this. They are not as heavy bodied as other French reds, and at the same time offer an interesting mix of spices and earthiness. The only Côtes du Rhône the restaurant had was this one, so we decided to go for it.
Today I found out that Kermit Lynch is a major wine merchant in the tradition of French négociants from California. They offer a whole variety of wines from France and Italy with a gazillion of producers working for them. This particular Côtes du Rhône blend is vinified by Jean-François Pasturel from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan grapes from 40 year old vines on 36 hectares around Avignon.
The wine had a medium ruby color. Its nose was nicely perfumy with wooden and earthy notes, Nina detected some blueberries that were definitely there. On the palate, the wine was on the lower end of medium bodied, and it showed a nice fruitiness of red berries and herbal, foresty aromas. The finish was of medium length, with a nice peppery note to it. It was pretty yummy to guzzle at dinner, and was just the right weight.
It also paired nicely with our – quite disappointing – dinner. The first course was a duck liver paté, to which the earthy notes paired well. The second course was a very nice salad with pan-seared (over-peppered) local trout, where it sort of worked. This was followed by uninspired “gnocchi” (which had nothing in common with gnocchi any Italian would serve) in a tomato sauce – the wine worked again. The next course was pork loin with potatoes (talk about uninspired again), where the wine complemented the roast aromas on the pork and went nicely with the onions. The dessert was an abomination of a panna cotta, made with buttermilk which destroyed its texture and taste (hardly any vanilla, and not even a reminder of the creaminess a panna cotta should have) and topped with a horrible concord grape syrup that tasted as bad as a Welch grape juice (which I completely detest)…luckily, I had the wine to clean my palate from the few spoons I ate before I abandoned the dish.
It was kind of a sad thing, this dinner. While I want to support locally sourced restaurants and like the idea, using these ingredients does not absolve you from making dishes that taste good. It is like organic wines. There is no inherent goodness in making wines in an organic fashion. They have to taste good first and foremost. If the two go together, the better. If not, I will relinquish ingredients over taste at any moment.
The wine was nice, so I recommend it.